(April 10, 2020). What was your reaction when you first saw this video?
The answer likely depends on a number of factors, including your views on race, politics, police intervention, freedom of speech, and any number of conspiracy theories you may or may not have regarding the coronavirus epidemic sweeping the U.S.
In the video, you have a 25-year-old black man named Rashaan Davis narrating a large gathering of people in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine or OTR neighborhood. Revelers – mostly (if not all) black folks – danced on top of cars, turned up liquor bottles, rapped to hip-hop music, and otherwise partied on the streets in blatant disregard for Ohio’s “stay-at-home” order, issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic and in effect through April. The video and gathering happened on Saturday, April 4.
Davis and his crowd not only did this despite the Ohio governor’s mandate, but in spite of it. Davis even invoked the deadly virus’ name while live-streaming the crowd, although it wasn’t clear whether it was the virus he was protesting or defying authorities in general.
“We don’t give a f*ck about the coronavirus,” he bragged as he celebrated his self-made video possibly being picked up by Worldstar Hip-Hop and going viral. “Here’s how we celebrate the coronavirus in my ‘hood.”
Celebrate? A deadly virus that is disproportionately killing more people that look like Davis (and me) than those who don’t (at least in the U.S.)?
Maximum viewership at any given point during the video (according to Davis’ boasts throughout): 1700 people.
That and a couple of dollars might get you bus fare from Over-the-Rhine to downtown Cincinnati (but you’ll need the couple of dollars!).
The seventeen hundred viewers Davis collected on social media Saturday night is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the likely millions who’ve seen or read his story since then. The wannabe master-of-ceremony’s misguided cry for attention landed him an arrest by Cincinnati police and a few nights (so far) in jail after he essentially dimed himself out by posting the video on his own social media feed.
It’s never clear whether silly criminals like Davis (yes, he’s got a lengthy felony record) are protesting society’s ills or simply provoking authorities when they snitch on themselves by live-streaming their nefarious actions on the Internet. But Davis gets to contemplate that while he spends nights in jail wondering whether it was all really worth it.
But more important than that was the crime of which he’s being accused – specifically, violating the state’s mandate to stay-at-home and worse, encouraging others to defy it in the face of the deadliest health pandemic to hit this country in more than a century. More formally, Davis is accused of “inciting violence” by encouraging others to commit criminal acts, i.e., violate the order and put people’s health and lives at risk.
Davis, who has a considerable criminal history, had a contentious initial bond hearing on Monday, April 6, where his bail was set at $350,000. During the proceedings, Davis’ attorney Clyde Bennett argued that his client wasn’t actively “carrying” or spreading the coronavirus, so the charges were bogus.
The prosecution (Asst. Prosecutor David Wood) seemed to counter-argue that Davis’ blatant disrespect for the virus was in itself criminal, as Wood proceeded to reflect its seriousness by citing world dignitaries who’ve tested positive, including the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, British royalty Prince Charles, and the wife of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, among other names that Davis likely cared nothing about. A more effective argument to drive the point home to the young man would have been to cite statistics right here in America, particularly in its black communities.
A continuation hearing is set for April 21.
Of course, there will be those who rush to Davis’ defense claiming that he was targeted because he is black, or that white people have also defied stay-at-home orders, but don’t get arrested (actually they have in this case, more on that in a moment).
And yes it would be easy for those defenders to invoke recent history as there is certainly enough evidence in this country to suggest that Davis’ odds were likely stacked against him from the day he was born black, and that he was more likely to be criminalized than, for example, a white beach-party reveler somewhere in, say, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for doing the same kinda thing.
But that argument doesn’t hold water in this case. Not when you consider that the very real public health threat for which these mandatory lockdowns were issued targets black communities just as disproportionately as the legal system itself does.
Consider that reports from the nation’s third-largest city of Chicago (and my place of residence), which has a roughly 30% black population, indicate that African-Americans make up approximately 70% of deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. That was as of Monday, April 6.
New Orleans has also been a hot spot, with the predominantly black Orleans parish leading Louisiana in both reported cases and deaths due to coronavirus, as of April 10. Statewide, blacks lead with 70% of COVID-19 deaths.
In Michigan, 40 percent of those who died were African-American even though we only account for 13 percent of that state’s population. The hardest-hit area: Predominantly black Detroit, of course.
And why is that? Well, it’s for all the reasons we already know about: lack of access to adequate healthcare facilities, low-income housing with densely populated conditions where social-distancing measures just aren’t feasible, and the traditional underlying health conditions (obesity, diabetes, hypertension, etc.) that have dogged our black communities for generations.
That’s not to mention that when many people first learned of the virus, they either didn’t believe it could affect them (“it’s a white man’s disease”) or, even more absurdly, it was somehow linked to Corona beer (I’m not making that up…people who are close to me actually believed that!).
And that’s assuming they’d even heard about coronavirus at all. As recently as late March during the early days of Illinois’ mandatory stay-at-home order, there were reports of youngsters shooting hoops on Chicago’s west side, who, when told by authorities to disperse because of the virus, replied: “what virus?”
All of this is what makes us such easy prey for a deadly virus that doesn’t care what color you are and which has infected nearly a half-million people nationwide and killed more than 17,500 as of this typing.
I get it, American society in general hasn’t always been kind to our people. Historically, it has employed a number of tactics – urban renewal and gentrification, corrupt policing, discrimination in lending practices among them – all of which have served to marginalize us as a whole.
Even Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood – the one where Rashaan Davis put on his ill-fated coronavirus party – is a study in modern-day gentrification. Once considered the most dangerous area in Cincy based on violent crime statistics per capita in the 2000s, the historic OTR district has undergone an urban renewal that has clearly shifted the demographics and revitalized businesses.
Sadly, as a result, what was once a nearly 80% black population in the OTR has now been reduced to just over 50% due to the city’s efforts the past decade.
I also get it that black folks aren’t alone in our defiance of this disease and the social distancing measures it has evoked. Even the highest levels of government have tried to blow it off.
The U.S. president and his followers called the virus a “Democratic hoax” as recently as late-February (with some still doing so today). As of earlier this week, eight Republican-led states had yet to issue mandatory lockdowns after the virus had already infected more than 300,000 people nationwide.
When a group of eight, mostly-white, anti-abortion protesters were arrested last Saturday outside of an abortion clinic in Charlotte, NC, for violating that state’s stay-at-home order, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, came to the group’s defense, calling their arrest an abuse of power by pro-abortion Democrats. He further referred to the arrests as “unconstitutional.”
You can bet that no such defense will be invoked for Rashaan Davis – arrested the same day as the abortion protesters – especially by a standing member of US Congress.
So it’s easy to understand the frustration caused by years of disenfranchisement due to the inequities of gentrification, economic disparity, targeted law enforcement, and even political intervention such as Sen. Cruz’s. It’s also understandable if we don’t always feel like slogans such as “we’ll get through this” or hashtags like “AloneTogether” apply to our people.
But if in our protests (or provocations in Davis’ case) we think that self-destructive behaviors like the ones displayed in Cincy last weekend are the answer, we need to think again.
If gentrification is already working against us as black folks, why make it that much easier with a virus that will have no problem wiping many of us out within weeks of exposure. No, the virus doesn’t discriminate when it comes to who it infects. But this country’s attitudes about race and socioeconomic status clearly impact who is more likely to get the virus and die from it.
Having a countercultural attitude with zero fucks to give is one thing, and you may not “care about the coronavirus” as Rashaan Davis so eloquently put it in his video Saturday night.
But the reality is, this virus cares even less about you, me or any of the dozens of people that partied with Davis on the streets of Cincy.
Or, put simply, the coronavirus is far more “gangsta” and will have no problem offing more people than anyone in the OTR ‘hood or any other ‘hood could have ever imagined.
Paraphrasing a meme I recently read: “Your grandparents were called to war and protest against enemies foreign and domestic. You’re being called to sit at home and stay on the couch. YOU CAN DO THIS!”
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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